Create leaf mold for organic matter and mulch

Double trunk Japanese maple
The beauty of autumn lies in the trees, with their leaves changing to brilliant colors of yellow, gold, or shades of red before the tree pushes the leaves off. Designed as a survival mechanism for the tree as it shuts down and slips into dormancy for the winter, the falling leaves become a free source of organic matter and mulch.

What is Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is decomposed leaves. Worked into the soil when preparing the garden for planting, leaf mold acts as a natural and free (can't forget free!) fertilizer. Leaf mold is also a suitable mulch. Spread the decaying leaves 1 to 2 inches deep around flowers and vegetables and 3 to 4 inches deep around shrubs and trees.

Advantages

Only leaves are used to create leaf mold, making this a simple healthy additive for plants. There is no smell nor swarming of gnats as might be seen with augmented compost bins. The leaves do no need to be turned. You can create leaf mold on the ground with no need for a special container, though contained in a wire bin will help speed the decomposing process.

Disadvantages

It takes about a year for the leaves to decompose. However, leaves collected in the fall are suitable for tilling into the garden soil the following spring even if they have not fully decomposed. They will continue to decompose in the soil. The space needed to create enough leaf mold for a vegetable garden could be unsightly.

Make a Leaf Mold Recycle Bin

Chicken wire leaf holder
For a very easy-to-create bin or cage, use chicken wire. You can control the diameter of the bin by how wide you make the circle. Unroll the chicken wire and use wire cutters to snip off a section about 6 feet long. Pull the short ends together to create a ring and bend the wire (pliers may be needed) to hold the ring. Place the ring on the ground where it will remain for the collected leaves. It is important to set the bin or piled leaves directly on the ground for drainage and to allow earthworms easy access.

Build a sturdier bin, if desired, using 2 by 2 inch posts. Cut the posts’ tips on a 45-degree angle to create a point. Pound the stakes into the ground about 18 inches. Wrap chicken wire around the posts to create a bin and then staple or screw the wire to the posts.

You can fill the bin to the top. If you have many leaves and a large garden to “feed,” place several together, preferably near the garden for easy distribution. The leaves receive rainwater or snow to help keep them wet, which encourages a fungal breakdown. If rain or snow is lacking, sprinkle the leaves with water to keep them moist. Cover the bin with plastic if necessary to prevent wind from drying the leaves.

Tip

Mow the leaf-covered lawn with the bag attached to the mower. Place the chopped up leaves and grass into the bin. Bone meal sprinkled between every 10 inches of the clippings should make the fungal breakdown faster. Bone meal is available in bags as small as three pounds for about $6.